LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - The search to replace Simon Cowell on “American Idol” will be the biggest issue for Fox television this summer as it tweaks the sagging TV singing contest next year to shorten the weekly results show.
Senior network executives told reporters on Monday they had listened to feedback from audiences, which have slipped by some 9 percent this year in a lackluster season that has seen challenges to “Idol”s long reign as the most-watched show on U.S. television.
“We have heard consistently from audiences that they would like more performances and tighter results shows,” said Fox entertainment president Kevin Reilly.
Reilly said that in the 10th season starting 2011, the weekly elimination show will be cut by half to 30 minutes. The performance show will expand to 90 minutes from one hour in the final rounds. It was not clear at what stage the 90-minute show would kick in.
There was no news on a replacement for acerbic British judge Simon Cowell -- arguably “American Idol”s biggest star -- who leaves at the end of the current season in late May.
Fox entertainment chairman Peter Rice said nationwide contestant auditions would start in September -- a month later than usual -- giving “Idol” producers and the network some breathing space.
“We have to find a judge to replace Simon who provides both musical credibility and incredible entertainment value,” Rice said. “There is no bigger question for the summer.”
Audiences have slipped to an average 24.1 million this season, compared to 26.1 million in 2009 and 2006’s high of about 30.8 million.
But Rice said the decline was “pretty good” given that the show was in its ninth season. He said “American Idol” remains “the No.1 show in television.”
Media watchers and bloggers have attributed the fall off in viewers to the quality of contestants this year and misgivings about the replacement of Paula Abdul with Ellen DeGeneres on the judging panel.
The official www.americanidol.com web site has been inviting fans to rate the judges and spell out their likes and dislikes in a rare and detailed survey this month as audiences have slipped below 20 million in the lead up to the two-part finale on May 25 and 26.
Reporting by Jill Serjeant, Editing by Christine Kearney